This is not okay. It’s all so very, very not okay that it feels too early to write anything at all. But I can’t not write, as I sit here trying to process what just happened as the United States of Insanity went to the polls and plunged the world into chaos.
I sit here, wearing my pantsuit in solidarity (I’m a jeans gal all the way, so trust me when I tell you this is a political statement and not a fashion choice), and I think about all the ways in which this is never going to be okay.
It’s not okay that girls have been given the message that they are somehow less than. That it’s okay for a man to say what he likes about them and grab whatever part of them he feels like, and that basically it makes no difference to the world at all.
It’s not okay that people of colour have been given the message that they are “them” and not “us.” That the answer to all the world’s problems is to build walls, literal and metaphorical, to keep out those who have a different colour of skin.
It’s not okay that people from other nations, of other faiths, have been given the message that they are not welcome here, that “they” are what has caused all the problems that plague a nation striving to be great – a nation that will be great again when it’s finally able to keep those newcomers out.
It’s not okay that people who are in any way “other” – by virtue of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability – have been pushed aside as unwanted, unneeded, unwelcome.
None of this is okay. And I’ll venture a guess that a vast majority of Americans don’t think this is okay, either.
So why the hell did Donald Trump get elected? Many theories are being discussed. Many fingers are being pointed. Truth is, short of individually asking every Trump voter what motivated them to get to the polls and cast a ballot, the “experts” will never know for sure.
Misogyny helped. This election was powered by sexism, as sure as I live and breathe and wear my pantsuit. No one will ever convince me that a male version of Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have run away with this damn thing, from the Democratic primaries on up.
Discontent helped. It was a desire for change – voters were sick of the system and the establishment. Clinton was establishment, Trump wasn’t. Clinton carried baggage, Trump was new to politics. Anti-“establishment” voters turned either to Trump or to third-party choices – choices that could have been difference makers for Clinton in close-fought races.
The media helped. It was a media that failed, albeit I suspect with the best of intentions. It failed because it strove to provide a false sense of “balance” where in fact none existed; it painted the erroneous picture of a choice between two equally flawed candidates when the truth is one candidate was not so much “flawed” as enormously, gigantically and completely unqualified, incapable and dangerous. Once it finally caught on to that fact, the media machine changed tactics. Instead of providing false balance, it splashed Trump’s insanity across front pages as if that would help people to see what was wrong with him. In truth all it did was give him more press, more attention and more credibility than he ever deserved.
Facebook helped. Welcome to life in the 21st century, where we live in a social media-driven world that feeds us our news and information in echo chambers. News dissemination and news consumption has changed dramatically even since the last election. No longer do we seek out credible news sources featuring varying voices and points of view. Instead we are subjected to the selections of an algorithm that decides what we do and do not see. Mark Zuckerberg bears as much responsibility for the outcome of this election as anyone.
The class divide helped. The chasm between the haves and have-nots, between the educated and the uneducated, between the employed and the jobless, between the upper echelons and the working class, has never been more vast. A shrinking middle class, a poverty-stricken public education system and a health-care system that helps only the wealthy all played their role in Trump’s win.
The more I think about Trump’s victory over Clinton, the more I feel that America wasn’t simply deciding between two different candidates with two diametrically opposed world views. It was voting in two entirely separate elections.
One election was all about human rights: about the rights of women, people of colour, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, people with disabilities, and, yes, about the rights of white, straight, able-bodied men, too. It seems unfathomable to those who voted in that election – the election I would have voted in, were I an American voter – that people on the other side couldn’t see the obvious and inherent rightness in this position.
People voting in this election were clear about what it was about: it was about a highly qualified woman, about to shatter the highest glass ceiling of them all, forced to face down a laughably less qualified man in a fight that shouldn’t have even been a fight. It was about our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, our friends. It was about choosing a president who was intelligent, stable, qualified and capable.
The other election was about anger. About people feeling displaced, feeling left behind, feeling overlooked and forgotten, feeling that the system has not given them a voice, feeling that the smug others – the middle class, the elites, the institutional media, the political system itself – had ceased to serve them, ceased to listen to them. Ceased, if truth be told, to even recognize their existence, except as some hazy red-hued mob out in the countryside somewhere.
People voting in this election were clear what it was all about: it was about giving the finger to the system and the elites that are keeping them down. About shouting louder than the other guy and exercising their God-given right to have their voice heard and to keep their guns and their marriages and what’s left of their dignity intact. It was about choosing the guy who promised them a way out of the bleak future they see stretching out in front of them, who promised to protect them from the shadowy forces that threaten all they know and hold dear.
Glass ceilings? Human rights? Oh, those are lofty and wonderful ideals - for the privileged. But they won’t resonate with you if you’re more worried about finding a job, putting food on the table, keeping your family safe.
That second group of voters I talked about? I can’t say I understand them completely. Their world isn’t my world – and it isn’t the world of most of the mainstream media or the political pundits, who missed the boat on Trump because they didn’t understand that world at all.
I don’t like it. Not at all. But, if you’re one of those voters, I do see how a guy in a ballcap promising to make America great again feels more like your kind of guy than a woman in a power suit.
I am still angry about the election results. I am horrified by a system that allowed a billionaire to successfully pretend to be one of the “common men” and to spew vulgarity, hate and lies without consequence. A system that allowed an unbalanced, bombastic, misogynistic, hate-filled, pathological liar to manipulate his way into the highest office in the land.
It’s a dark day for America, and for the world.
But now the bigger challenge begins. How does the “left” – you know, the people voting in that first election I talked about – move forward from here? How does it reach out to and include those other people – those people whose voices rang out loud and clear at the polls and allowed Trump to ascend to the Oval Office? How does it reach across the chasm of gender, of class, of race, of world view, to find a common ground on which to build a new America?
This is the question that everyone needs to be asking today, and moving forward.
Without an answer, this election could be the beginning of the end of democracy. I rather hope that, instead, it’s the end of the beginning – and the start of a new and more effective democracy that includes every citizen.
God speed, America.
We’re here for you when you need us. But please, please, don’t mess this up any worse. We can't handle the stress. And we'd kinda like our peaceful corner of the planet to stay that way.